Tuskegee University and Fort Valley State will play in the inaugural Red Tails Classic football game in September to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary Black military aviators who served in World War II.
The game will open both teams’ schedules on Sept. 5 at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. It will be among many football games from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that will broadcast across ESPN’s network.
“We are extremely pleased to highlight Tuskegee University in an annual kickoff event in Montgomery for the next three years,” said Pete Derzis, ESPN senior vice president for college sports programming and events. “The history of this outstanding HBCU institution is accented with the important role the Tuskegee Airmen played in World War II, and serves as a great source of pride we hope to highlight within the nationally televised event.”
The NCAA Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) is home to both programs, and because of COVID-19, they opted not to play during the academic year. The Red Tails Classic will be the first game a SIAC team has played in since the SIAC championship in November 2019.
Tuskegee athletic director and head football coach Willie Slater didn’t hesitate to accept the offer when approached by ESPN Events.
“I am excited about it. I think it’s a great opportunity for our players and our school,” he said. “When the opportunity presented itself for us to play in the Red Tails Classic, I was all for it. I think it’s a real good opportunity to play on ESPN.”
Tuskegee interim president Charlotte P. Morris said it was a great chance to highlight the team and school on ESPNU.
“Tuskegee’s Labor Day football game will certainly be different this year,” Morris said. “We are excited about taking on conference rival Fort Valley State University in this year’s inaugural Red Tails Classic. The Tuskegee Airmen are our American heroes, and we are elated to honor them in this newly branded classic.”
The Tuskegee Golden Tigers and Fort Valley State Wildcats have a long-standing rivalry. Fort Valley State (6-4, 4-2 SIAC) finished third in the SIAC East Division in 2019, while Tuskegee (5-5, 4-2 SIAC) finished second in the SIAC West Division.
Slater said playing a longtime conference rival at the Cramton Bowl returns the program to familiar territory.
“We have a good history with Fort Valley and the Cramton Bowl,” Slater said. “Fort Valley is one of the best teams in the Eastern Division and we played them for the SIAC championship in 2017. We’ve played some big games in the Cramton Bowl.”
The Red Tails Classic joins more than 20 HBCU classic football games that are expected to return in the fall, including the Circle City Classic in Indianapolis and the Black College Hall of Fame Classic in Canton, Ohio, in September; the State Fair Classic in Dallas and the Magic City Classic in Birmingham, Alabama, in October; and the Bayou Classic in New Orleans in November.